You see a lot of interesting things in NBA locker rooms.
The pregame eating habits of some of the NBA's best might be one of the most surprising things. Many professional athletes seem to have been gifted with iron stomachs to go along with their already amazing athletic abilities. It isn't that strange to see a player eating a chocolate bar, followed by some popcorn and then candy before he hits the court. Others will be scarfing down food out of a take-out container barely an hour before a game. Somehow, it doesn't seem to be affecting them.
Grant Hill is not one of these players.
While the 39 year-old Hill has had to overcome more than his fair share of injuries, he's healthy now. On and off the court. A starter for the Phoenix Suns, Hill gets to chase the much younger, more athletic wings around the floor. He credits his success to his strict eating habits, saying he isn't even allowing room for slip ups in his diet this season.
I’m a big believer that certain foods affect your body, your energy and your ability to recover and perform. With the compressed season, we’ve had a lot of games within a short period of time, [so] it’s even more important to really be consistent about your diet. I’ve always done that. I think in the past during the season once in a while I might afford myself an opportunity to cheat or to have something that’s not good for [me], but during this season I’ve been very diligent about eating the right foods.
While his younger teammates might be ordering take out or eating whatever catering is in the locker room after games, Hill's diet has a simple rule of thumb:
"If it was here a million years ago, then I tend to eat it."
Hill isn't the only Suns player on a health kick. Steve Nash (who recently turned 38) has been a long-time subscriber to the "you are what you eat" regimin, often discussing his diet on Twitter with interested fans and athletes. It isn't a coincidence that two of the oldest players in the league are logging heavy minutes on a nightly basis and still managing to bounce back and be ready despite the short turnaround times in this shortened season.
Hill was asked if he had any advice for rookies in the league. If NBA trainers around the league are smart, they'll be emailing their players his advice.
"When you’re 21 or 22, certain foods may or may not affect you, so it’s hard to understand why it’s important to eat healthy. I think they see two older guys having the most energy and playing a lot of minutes, so people are naturally interested. Like, what are these guys doing? Why are they able to continue to play and be active and have energy and not break down? I feel like as a veteran and a guy who’s been around I didn’t necessarily have great examples when I came in of veterans who ate healthy. So I kinda envy these guys today that have some older guys who have [this] lifestyle and eat correctly. They might not get it, but at least they have the information, and slowly and gradually over their careers they can change. Just as I have, and Steve has as well. "
If you're curious as to what Hill is consuming on a daily basis, he discussed that as well.
"I try to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. [I've] been doing a lot of juices to really complement that so I can I get all the nutrients from raw fruits and vegetables. I’m a believer in eating animal protein, so I’ll have fish, chicken, lamb and I do eat red meat. I try to stay away from sugars. There’s a lot of hidden sugars in foods and drinks. I try to stay away from processed foods."
The healthy living choices of Hill and Nash have already made a huge impact on Suns' teammate Jared Dudley. Dudley credits the two for helping him to get into shape and recognize the importance of the food he was putting into his body. While many players reported to camp out of shape after the lockout, Dudley wasn't just in shape, he had slimmed down to a fit 225 pounds thanks to tweaks in his diet and work-out regimen he learned from his veterans.
Hill's approach may seem severe (he isn't even allowing himself to grab a cookie on the team's plane after victories this season), but no one can argue its benefits. While it takes lots of hard work to make it into the NBA, it's even harder to stay there for 17 years.